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What Is Cyber Terrorism?

Updated on September 13, 2010

Cyberterrorism is “the use of information technology by terrorist groups and individuals to further their agenda. This can include use of information technology to organize and execute attacks against networks, computer systems and telecommunications infrastructures, or for exchanging information or making threats electronically.”

Why Cyberterror?

  • There are many advantages over the traditional physical methods of terrorist attacks.
  • Society depends heavily on information technology.
  • Public works systems such as electrical, water, and traffic control are controlled by computers.
  • Communication is used for stock exchanges and banking.

Why It's Appealing To Terrorists

  • Terrorists do not need explosives or guns, instead they can deliver viruses through a telephone, cable, or wireless connection.
  • Terrorists become much more anonymous.
  • It is much easier to target any important structures.
  • Usually critical infrastructures are the ones most vulnerable.

Effects of Cyber Terrorism

  • Weaken a country’s economy.
  • Cause Environmental contamination.
  • Endanger public health / safety.
  • Alter or erase computerized medical, pharmacy or health insurance record among other things.
  • Hinder telecommunication system.
  • Shut down electrical power supply.

Examples of Cyber Terrorism

  • In March 1997, a teenage hacker penetrated and disabled a telephone company computer that provided service to the Worcester Airport in Massachusetts, cutting off service to the airport control tower, fire department, security, and weather service for six hours.
  • In 1992, a disgruntled former employee of Chevron Corporation’s emergency alert network, hacked into computers in New York and San Jose, California and reconfigured the firm’s emergency alert system so that it would fail during an event. The disabled system was not discovered until an emergency arose at the Chevron refinery in Richmond, California and the adjacent community could not be notified during an accidental chemical release. During the ten-hour period in which the system was down, thousands of people in 22 states and six areas in Canada with Chevron facilities went without the Chevron emergency alert system. As suggested above, hackers also have attacked traffic regulation systems, disrupting traffic lights, with the potential for an increase in motor vehicle collisions.


  • Y2K is not a cyber terrorist attack. Instead it demonstrates the possible effects of what kind of effect cyber terrorism will have on the public.
  • A sense of fear and despair.

Counter Cyber-Terrorism

U.S. Department of Defense

  • The U.S. Department of Defense is charged with coordinating and supervising all agencies and functions of the government relating directly to national security and the military.
  • It appointed the United States Strategic Command with the duty of combating cyber terrorism

U.S. Strategic Command

  • a.k.a. USSTRATCOM
  • Is in command of nuclear weapons, space operations, missile defense, global intelligence, surveillance.
  • Fights cyber terrorism through the Joint Task Force Global Network Operations (JTF-GNO) to defend the Global Information Grid (GIG).

Global Information Grid

  • Globally interconnected system that provides processing, storage, management, and transport of information on demand to support the Department of Defense, war fighters, and policymakers.
  • Includes all communications and computing systems and services, software , system data, security services, and other services necessary to achieve information superiority for the United States military.

Joint Task Force Global Network Operations (JTF-GNO)

  • Supports USSTRATCOM in defense of the GIG by integrating GNO capabilities into Department of Defense networks and systems.
  • Identifies and resolves computer security anomalies that affect the Global Information Grid's ability to support the Department of Defense.
  • Identifies significant threats to the Global Information Grid and develops and implements countermeasures to these threats.
  • Identifies emerging technologies and their associated threats in order to respond with actions for the defense of the Global Information Grid.

Other Government Agencies

  • CIA: created Information Warfare Center
  • FBI: investigates hackers and similar cases
  • Secret Service: pursues banking and fraud
  • Air Force: created Electronic Security Engineering Teams (ESSETs)

Methods of Protection

  • The only way to completely secure a system is to fully isolated from any outside connection but this is an unrealistic solution due to the world's heavy dependence on information technology.
  • The most common form of protection is encryption. It, however, does not protect the entire system so it's still vulnerable to things such as viruses.
  • Another form of protection is with the use of firewalls to screen all communications to and from a system.

How can you protect yourself?

  • Create unique passwords that are difficult to guess for all accounts that you use.
  • Use security software. Can’t afford it? There’s many good, free solutions out there such as Avast, Avira, Comodo, and AVG to name a few.
  • Check with vendors for upgrades and patches for your security software.
  • If you’re unsure about a website/email, don’t access it. Better safe than sorry.
  • Use sandboxing software. A free option is Sandboxie.

Cyber Terrorism In Fiction

  • Movies like Live Free or Die Hard show exaggerated possibilities of cyber terrorism.
  • Books like Digital Fortress by Dan Brown explore theories of cyber terrorism.

The Inconvient Truth

  • The problem is that cyber terrorism is full of speculation. So far countries have not yet experienced the full threat of this new terrorism.
  • The effects is much more exaggerated then you think. As countries like U.S. aren’t as vulnerable as they seem.
  • Until we see the destruction of critical infrastructures, we will not yet feel the gist of Cyber Terrorism.


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